Everything you need to know about the lawsuit in the 52nd district

State Senator Libous may have lied to the FBI

Thomas Libous, a state senator from Binghamton, has been accused of lying to the FBI. Here is everything you need to know about the case and the charges.

Photo courtesy nysenate.gov Senator Thomas Libous has represented Binghamton since the 1980's.

Who is Thomas Libous?

Thomas W. Libous has been the senator for the 52nd district, which includes all of Broome and Tioga counties, as well as parts of Chenango and Delaware counties, since 1988. The 61-year-old Senator is from Johnson City and has served 13 consecutive terms with the New York State Senate.

Libous was named the Senate’s Deputy Minority Leader in 2008 and again in 2010 once the Republicans regained control of the Senate after losing it in 2009. He is currently the Senate’s Deputy Majority Coalition Leader, because the Senate is being lead by a coalition of Republicans and a few Democrats. This arrangement is currently in flux, and may change in this coming election season, but more on that later.

Effectively, he is the second-most powerful Republican in the Senate and one of the top Republicans in the state.

As a state senator, Libous has a strongly conservative record. He voted no on the NYSAFE Act, which put further restrictions on assault weapons in January 2013. He voted yes to legalize casino gambling in New York in March 2014. He voted against marriage equality in 2011 and is ardently pro hydrofracking . For a full list of key votes Libous has made, check out Project Vote Smart.

Libous is also known for making the most jokes on the floor of the Senate. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009.

What’s happened so far?

Here is where things get a little confusing. Essentially, Libous is accused of using his position to get a job for his son, 32-year-old Matthew Libous, at the Westchester law firm Santangelo, Randazzo & Mangone.

Federal authorities have been investigating Libous since 2010. In 2012, at a federal corruption trial (bribery charges) against a former Yonkers councilwoman, disbarred lawyer Anthony Mangone testified that his law firm hired Mathew Libous in exchange for Senator Libous sending business to the firm. Mangone also testified that after Libous repeatedly demanded that his son get a raise, from $50,000 to $150,000 in eight months, the Senator directed the firm to bill $50,000 of his son’s salary to the lobbying firm Ostroff, Hiffa & Associates (now Ostroff Associates, Inc.).

The law firm has confirmed receipt of the $50,000 payment from Ostroff, Hiffa. There has been no explanation of the relationship between Senator Libous and Ostroff, Hiffa. Read Mangone’s testimony here.

Following Mangone’s testimony in 2012, former Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) to investigate if Libous had indeed gotten his son a job with the law firm, and to complain about the relationship between Senator Libous and the Ostroff, Hiffa lobbying firm.

Recently, Libous and his son pleaded not guilty, and said that the charges were too vague for them to provide a defense. Libous has maintained his innocence through the entire proceedings.

What is he charged with?

Not bribery or corruption. Libous was indicted July 1 for lying to the the FBI when he was being questioned in 2010 about his involvement in getting his son a job. As the Press and Sun-Bulletin explained, this is the kind of charge that is generally added to others, like corruption charges, so indicting him on lying alone is a unique legal move. Libous’s son was indicted for filing false tax returns and using money from his company to pay for things like salon trips and online dating services.

Is he still in office?

Yes, for the time being. Libous’s seat is up for reelection this year. The 52nd district is generally considered to be a “safe” seat for Republicans, who outnumber Democrats in the district 69,801 to 61,006. However, with this indictment, the seat may now be in play. Though it may seem impossible for the 52nd district to elect a Democrat, anything can happen after such a public scandal.

So far, Denver Jones, the vice president of engineering at an electronic manufacturer in Ithaca, has filed paperwork  to primary Libous for the Republican nomination this fall. Anndrea Starzak, the Democratic former Vestal town supervisor, also recently submitted her paperwork to run against Libous. Even Matt Ryan, the former Binghamton mayor who filed the ethics complaint against Libous, hasn’t ruled out running.

The scandal doesn’t mean Libous is bound to lose. Since 2002, he has won the seat every two years with no less than 59 percent of the vote, and he has run unopposed twice. Writing him off as a legitimate candidate just because of this indictment would be a political miscalculation.

If Libous is voted out because of this controversy, he’ll be in good company. According to a report  by the Citizens Union of the City of New York, since 1999, 22 state legislators have left office because of “criminal or ethical issues.” A New York state legislator is more likely to leave office because of these reasons than to die in office.

What are the broader implications?

The New York State Senate has been a tumultuous place in the past few years. Traditionally Republican-controlled, the Senate briefly flipped to Democratic control in 2009 and 2010. In 2012, five Democratic senators broke off from the Democrats and joined the Republican leadership. The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) co-lead the Senate with Republicans until June, when they announced that they would be rejoining the Democrats, thereby making the Senate a Democratic-controlled body once again.

Of course, nothing is final until New Yorkers cast their ballots in the fall, and we see exactly where the seats lie. If Libous’s seat does go to a Democrat, it may solidify the Democrats’ hold on the Senate, making all three branches of New York state government run by Democrats.

As far as what this means for Binghamton University students, the future is even less clear. Libous’s website says that the Senator has secured over $150 million in capital funding to help BU. It’s hard to believe that if Libous does lose, his successor will decide to direct less money to the University, but as always in New York state politics, anything is possible.